Argentinean community telecom cooperatives (CTCs) are civil society organizations that are operated like private companies, providing telecom services to roughly 8% of the country’s 37 million population.
The CTCs are jointly-owned autonomous associations, democratically administered and dedicated to solving not only connectivity issues but also concerned with the cultural needs and aspirations of their communities.
To create synergies and get better deals CTCs have created strong federations. The largest of these are the Federation of Telecom Cooperatives (Fecotel), in existence for 40 years, and the Federation of Cooperatives of Telephone Services of the Southern Zone (Fecosur). Between them they represent 350 community cooperatives.
The CTCs were created in the 1960s as a result of changes to legislation. Their founders aimed at remedying Entel’s (the state teleco) inability to provide services in isolated or sparsely populated areas. The cooperatives were created by their members and shareholders: individuals and local companies that were interested in obtaining efficient and economical telecom services. The subsequent development of these cooperatives has been nothing short of phenomenal. According to 2005 figures, the cooperative sector in Argentina has installed 600,000 telephone lines, has annual profit of 100 million USD, and provides jobs for 3,500 people.
In addition to telephony services, CTCs now also provide Internet services, broadband connections, WiFi, and IP telephone services, among others. CTCs offer lower prices, than those charged by the telephone companies operating elsewhere in the country. Argentinean expert on information society issues, Susana Finquelievich, comments that the CTCs are expanding and gaining more power in Argentina. However, private sector operators are lobbying to gain market advantages by adding new services and maximizing the use of the networks.
By the end of 2004, Argentina’s rate of internet growth was 35% with 20.3% penetration. Commercial operators, such as Telefónica or Telecom, benefit from State agreements granting them licenses to provide new services, even though their offers are still more expensive than those of CTCs. Additionally, in a sort of reverse interconnection scenario, the cooperatives “must facilitate all their infrastructure to private sector operators for them to compete in services provision with the cooperatives.”